How Social Media Policy Guidelines Stifle Innovation

social media policy guidelines

Is free speech critical to innovation, or is it okay to tell employees what they can and can't say in your organization's social media policy guidelines?

It's the questions I'm asking myself right now.

I'm thinking my Social Media Policy Template and Social Media Policy Development Training Course may be in need of an update?

Yesterday, US Chargé d’Affaires to Belarus Scott M. Rauland shared a link to a report about Internet Freedom by country on his Twitter account.

In Belarus, they block social media accounts and lock bloggers up (no lie) for criticizing the government on social media platforms. So the Internet Freedom Report Scott tweeted ranks Belarus as “Not Free.”

That, no doubt, inhibits collective, innovative thinking about how to solve that country's biggest challenges.

I’m off to Lithuania shortly to advise the US Dept. of State on digital public affairs strategy for TTIP, so that, and the senseless massacre at Charlie Hebdo in Paris has me thinking about the impact of creating social media guidelines that restrict free speech on social media sites.

I’m asking myself, is there a social media guidelines creation lesson?

Are politically correct speech codes counterproductive to the organizations they’re intended to serve? Are they strategically sound?

Is it time to reinvent our conventional approach to drafting social media policy guidelines so as not to discourage thoughts and ideas that can lead to growth? 

Paul Gillin didn’t think so when we discussed it on our last B2B social media podcast, but I’m not sure I'm still convinced.

I’m creating social media policy guidelines for a drugstore chain right now.

Obviously, I’ll cover HIPAA social media compliance, the FTC disclosure guidelines and respect the FDA social media policy guidelines.

But should I remove the sections I usually include in on Respectfulness and Digital Diplomacy?

I’ve always strived to develop social media guidelines that encourage cooperative online behavior. But is discouraging dissension a mistake?

By trying to steer clear of any kind of disagreement and make sure everyone plays nice, are we throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

Could deterring boat rockers by restricting free speech in corporate social media guidelines designed to preserve the status quo actually wind up stifling innovation?

“Free speech is supposed to incite dispute and it is often provocative and challenging while it presses for acceptance . . . The most valuable expression may well be that which, because it is provocative and challenging, produces these emotions (337 US 1,4, 1949).”

How does all this apply to B2B digital marketing strategy?

When I was researching Social Marketing to the Business Customer, I recorded a podcast interview with the folks at the SAP Community Network, which is a private B2B online social network that’s linked to an online store that only sells SAP products.

Interestingly enough, they decided to offer star-ratings and customer reviews above each of their products.

The thinking was that if a product was poorly rated, it would motivate the product team members to rally customers for good reviews, or serve as a badge of shame compelling them to fix whatever it was people were complaining about.

SAP uses free speech on social media to improve product performance by spotlighting, rather than censoring, criticism. I n this case, they use public disapproval to drive product improvement and business value.

And while we certainly enjoy unprecedented freedoms in the West, tracking a four-year global decline, the Internet in the US was less free in 2014 than it was in 2013. Different forces may be at work to restrict our freedom, but the results are the same.

The Internet Freedom Report 2018 found that “the internet is growing less free around the world, and democracy itself is withering under its influence.”

Still, corporate arbiters says some information is too proprietary, too controversial or just too darn damaging to their economic or political interests, so they try and use their social media guidelines to sequester it.

The speed and ease with which retailers nearly blocked theatrical motion picture exhibitors from screening “The Interview,” the Obama Administration’s numerous “attempts to prosecute and subpoena journalists accused of publishing leaker information” and Donald Trump's undermining of the free press with accusations of fake news proves that in the land of the free, there’s plenty of room for growth.

It’s not just despots and dictators who control the films, televisions shows and websites people have access to. They don’t resort to barbaric acts of terrorism to achieve their aims, but lobbyists, employers, even educators regularly try to restrict free speech, even though the distributed nature of social web challenges their ability to do so.

Lobbyists censor legislation through campaign contributions, employers try to control online conversations through social media guidelines and schools try to control campus demonstrations through politically correct speech codes.

“The journalists at Charlie Hebdo are now rightly being celebrated as martyrs on behalf of freedom of expression, but let’s face it: If they had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down,” wrote David Brooks in the New York Times.

Would the UCLA speech policy tolerate incisive, religious satire aimed at raising awareness of hypocrisy? Or would that type of speech be restricted in the name of inclusiveness?

What does respectful satire look like?

Freedom of expression means freedom to agree and disagree, freedom to include and exclude, freedom to tease and offend. You can’t unlock the value of free speech if arbiters are free to pick and choose what should be censored.

So I’ve decided to revise my Social Media Policy Template and Social Media Policy Development Training Course after all, with this in mind.

Where do you stand on free speech in social media policies? Should some freedoms, other than those prohibited by law, be restricted by employers?

If it’s lawful, should employees be free to say whatever they want online?

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